David Axe


December 19, 2023


Russian forces on the attack in southern Ukraine have a new tactic as they maneuver toward the front line. Instead of piling on top of their fighting vehicles for a quick ride into battle, the infantry are following behind the vehicles … on foot. It’s obvious why. When a Ukrainian mine, drone, artillery shell or anti-tank missile strikes a Russian fighting vehicle while an infantry squad is on it or in it, the blast could kill everyone: the vehicle’s crew and its passengers. If the infantry are trailing behind, however, they might dodge any attack on their accompanying vehicle.

The downside, of course, is mobility. To keep pace with the infantry behind it, a fighting vehicle must slow to a walking pace. Ironically, that might make the vehicle an easier target as it rolls toward the front line. And for the infantry, walking can be tiring.

The independent Conflict Intelligence Team noted, in its latest dispatch, this change in Russian infantry tactics. “Drone footage shot around Robotyne shows Russian infantry walking behind infantry fighting vehicles, in what we call ‘police tactics,’” CIT explained. “This may be aimed at protecting the infantry in the event of anti-tank guided missile or drone strikes,” CIT wrote. It pointed to a recent skirmish around Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine, where a Ukrainian Javelin anti-tank missile struck a Russian fighting vehicle carrying infantry on top of its hull. To be clear, mechanized infantry always dismount at the line of contact in order to spread out and bring their individual weapons to bear.

The fighting vehicle that transported the infantry to the front line might stick around in order to lend its firepower to the infantry assault. Or, if the threat from anti-tank weapons is too great, the vehicle might pull back—and wait around at a safe distance in case the infantry need help evacuating.

In the event the vehicle sticks around to support the infantry and the infantry are advancing, there are two main formations: “lead with infantry” or “lead with tanks,” to borrow the U.S. military’s parlance.

Ukrainian assault units famously apply this tactic when blending tanks and infantry. The infantry might ride into battle on top of the tank—“tank desant” is the term—then leap off once they’re within small-arms range of the enemy. The tank rolls forward, firing its cannon, and the infantry follow close behind.

When the enemy position is a few yards away, the tank swerves—and the infantry bound forward to toss grenades and fire their rifles. That is not what apparently was happening in the Russian maneuver the Ukrainians observed outside Robotyne. Instead, the Russians simply were

trying to get to the line of contact without all their vehicles and infantry getting wiped out in the same missile, artillery, drone or mine strike. Just getting to the fight has become extremely difficult for attacking Russian forces as the winter deepens and the Russians shift from defense to offense along much of the 600-mile front of Russia’s wider war on Ukraine.

Consider the two-month-old Russian campaign around Avdiivka, in the northeast. First, the Russians tried attacking the Ukrainian garrison in Avdiivka with tanks supported by fighting vehicles. After losing more than a hundred tanks and nearly 200 fighting vehicles to mines, artillery, missiles and drones, the Russians switched to footborne infantry attacks. The fighting vehicles would carry the infantry to within a few hundred yards from the front line, drop them off and then pull back.

Even this method apparently has proved too costly. So now the infantry are walking behind their fighting vehicles—at least around Robotyne. If enough fighting vehicles get plinked escorting the walking infantry to the front, expect to see Russian attacks where the infantry walk to the line of contact before also attacking on foot.

Imagine how tired an infantryman would be after walking a mile or two, with his weapon and all his ammunition, just to get close enough to begin his assault. Now imagine how much more tired he’d be if he were walking through the glue-like, ankle-deep mud that’s all over eastern and southern Ukraine during warmer winter days.


David Axe – Forbes Staff. Aerospace & Defense.  He is a journalist, author and filmmaker based in Columbia, South Carolina.  Axe founded the website War Is Boring in 2007 as a webcomic, and later developed it into a news blog.  He enrolled at Furman University and earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 2000. Then he went to the University of Virginia to study medieval history before transferring to and graduating from the University of South Carolina with a master’s degree in fiction in 2004.